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Saturday, July 17, 2004

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial Observer: Strom Thurmond Continued: The Known World of Ms. Washington-Williams

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial Observer: Strom Thurmond Continued: The Known World of Ms. Washington-Williams: "July 17, 2004
EDITORIAL OBSERVER
Strom Thurmond Continued: The Known World of Ms. Washington-Williams
By BRENT STAPLES

f newspapers reach the afterlife, then Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina is having a fitful time in that great Senate chamber in the sky. Mr. Thurmond, who died last year at the age of 100, spent half of the 20th century fending off the rumor that he had fathered a child of Carrie Butler, a black maid who worked in his family's home during the 1920's. He had been dead less than a year when Ms. Butler's daughter, a retired teacher named Essie Mae Washington-Williams, came forward to claim him as her father, explaining that he had met secretly with her for decades while denying her existence in public.
As a young woman, Ms. Washington-Williams calculated that having a fraction of a father glimpsed in back rooms was preferable to having no father at all. But since his death, she has laid claim to the Thurmond legacy in a very public way, not least of all by having her name inscribed alongside the names of the senator's other children on the Thurmond memorial outside the South Carolina Statehouse. Along the way, she has consciously transformed her family's story into a penetrating lesson on the history of race in the early South."

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